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The S&P 500 Index is up by 2.7% in April, 11.5% for 2012 and 27% since September 2011, yet the Risk Premium Factor (RPF) Valuation Model shows that the index is still undervalued by more than 15%.

The RPF Model is a simple approach for understanding intrinsic value of the market. The model shows that two factors drive the market, earnings and long-term interest rates, which drive cost of capital and embody inflation. And for individual companies, a third factor: growth. The RPF Model shows for a given level of earnings and long-term interest rates whether the market is over or undervalued.

This series of articles provides periodic updates to compare predicted to actual based on the latest earnings, interest rates and actual S&P 500 Index values. I've written about the model numerous times, so rather than repeat my overview of the model, you can read about it on Seeking Alpha.

The chart below shows actual versus values predicted by the RPF Model for the S&P 500 since 1986.

(Click to enlarge)

The chart uses normalized yields on 30-year Treasuries of 4.5% (2% real plus 2.5% inflation) from August 2011 through the present to adjust for the Federal Reserve's artificially depressing long-term rates by keeping short-term rates near zero and Operation Twist.

This suggests that if you expect earnings to hold at the current level or increase in the coming year, the market is undervalued. Today, the model shows that with a normalized yield on 30-year Treasuries of 4.5% and using S&P's trailing twelve month estimated earnings of $98.21, the intrinsic of the index is 1,621 - 15% above Friday's close of 1,403. Since the model shows that stock prices move inversely to long-term Treasury yields, using the actual 3.12% yield on the 30-year, would result an even higher predicted price for the S&P 500.

Over the past 50 years, the market has consistently reverted to the values predicted by the model, which suggests that something has to give. Any combination of the following could restore parity:

  1. We enter into a double dip recession and earnings on the S&P fall by about 13%
  2. Long-term rates move much higher, bringing the yield on the 30-year to 5.1%
  3. Equity prices increase

The gap has been closing as equity prices have increased. Some argue that the market is overvalued. The potential validity of their argument is dependent on the underlying reasoning. Those that suggest the market is overvalued because economic problems such as Greek and Spanish debt, job growth, deficit, or reduced government spending could hurt earnings are making their case based on fundamental principles: if the economy weakens and earnings fall, the market should follow.

Others make what I consider a naive argument that the market is overvalued because it has increased and due for a correction. I advise tuning out those voices and paying attention to the drivers of the market rather than its momentum, since over the long-term it has shown to respond to interest rates and earnings. Focus on those factors and develop a view on their direction, then use that to gauge the market.

Disclosure: I am long SPY and short long-term Treasuries

Source: Risk Premium Factor Model Shows S&P 500 Still Undervalued